On Romance Literature | Commentary

You are old enough, now, to know the truth about those knights in shining armor with their codes of honor:

A knight was the business end of his boss’s will. He did what people in the spy trade, these days, call the wetwork.

If you were a Medieval strongman, or lord, and needed a village razed and its women violated, knights were your go-to guys. Any louts sufficiently stout would do—just suit them up and turn them out on horseback. It didn’t take a lot of them, in those days, to terrorize a countryside, to effect a rout, to enforce a prerogative, expand a desmense, or check another lord’s ambition.

And, of course, the lord would have some poets on retainer to write it all up. The PR department. A poet’s business was to hold a funhouse mirror up to the gore and transmute it, to place fine phrases in the mouths of butchers and rapists and doughty up their deeds. A lord would supply his enforcers with horses, armor, and weapons. But it was the poet who would dress the lord’s muscle up in the livery of “trouthe” and “honour,” “fredom” and “cortesye” and “gentilesse”—who would wrap the whole murderous undertaking in the fine fable of “chivalrye,” for which services the poet would be “well used,” to borrow Prince Hamlet’s phrase, and provided scraps from the lord’s table. No “great man” in the Middle Ages but had a fine pack of poets.

And that, my dears, is the 411 on Medieval Romance. It’s the same shtick with the samurai and mobsters portrayed, respectively, in Japanese pillow books and in American tabloids and movies.

The strongman, the lord, the Dapper Don is always a con, of course, no more nor less than first among a murder of similarly cowardly, brutish, cognitively challenged, emotionally stunted, psychopathic or sociopathic thugs. Whether it’s Medieval Europe, Japan under the Shogunate, the mob, the gang, or the cartel—it’s the same set of phenomena. Place a strongman in power, and the rest follows.

Hey, you there, poet. Tell them how pretty I am. How valiant. How rich. How true. How skilled in the sacking of cities and maidens.

In short, the whole mystique created by the poet (or the filmmaker or the tabloid journalist) is a con, but with this saving grace: even the most meretricious poet-for-hire will aspire, in secret, to more, and will tell himself or herself that of course the work doesn’t present the world as it is but, rather, as it should be.

And because of this, the fanciful lore of the “stalwart knight and true” (and its analogs in other cultures and times) can inspire ideals in the young, who, given a chance, will in time hoist those bosses by their own poets’ petard. So, that, at least, you can take from those stories—that kernel, that seed, of idealism and hope for a better world.

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
This entry was posted in Short Stories, Teaching Literature and Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On Romance Literature | Commentary

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    New from HBO this Fall 🙞 A Conartistic Yankee in King Don’s Entourage 🙞

    Liked by 1 person

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